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Stop the U.S. Mail

February 7, 2005

Andy Kessler of Wired wonders about American tolerance of the monopolistic US Postal Service:

It's been said that Americans will put up with anything — as long as it doesn't involve waiting in line. And as I wasted half a day mailing a gift this past holiday season, I asked myself why that sentiment doesn't apply to the US Postal Service. In the age of instant communication, with trillions of dollars crossing borders in nanoseconds and grandmas sending email, why do post offices even exist?

He goes on to point out that the monopoly enjoyed by the Post Office means that the American Postal Workers Union can continue to succesfully fight against labor-saving technologies and, "The USPS monopoly means no shareholders to complain, and no lawyers to file class actions against it." He also argues that alternatives already exist to everything (useful) that the Postal Service does. Bills can now be paid online and private carriers like UPS and FedEx could easily move into first- and third-class mail. If junk mail didn't make the cut, who cares?

"...in 1825, Congress outlawed private mail delivery within cities and gave the USPS a monopoly over first-class letters and third-class items like magazines, catalogs, and junk mail (a prize if you can tell the difference)." Note first that the monopoly State is the sine qua non of the Postal Service monopoly. Note also that by making these services a monopoly, Congress removed them, to a great extent, from the market. What does this mean? It means that Americans are unjustly prevented, by force, from using private mail carriers that we think will do a better job. It also means that the US Postal Service is cut off from competition and, therefore, from the incentive to innovate in services and do things cheaper. "Monopoly" originally got its bad connotation from the efforts of the English classical liberals to combat royally granted monopolies. The libertarian war against monopoly continues.

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